“Learning to love the secret language of urine”

February 28th, 2017

Dr. Jonathan Reisman writes, in the Washington Post, about his professional love affair with a body fluid:

Many physicians are actively drawn to a particular bodily fluid, intrigued by its unique diagnostic mysteries. Each fluid that runs through the body is a language in which diseases speak to physicians, telling them what is wrong with a patient. And specializing means becoming fluent in one specific fluid’s dialect, learning to interpret its colors, textures and consistencies, and spending a career pondering its secrets.

As a medical student, I saw that a bodily fluid could shape a career. And though I resisted settling on just one (I remain a generalist), I have always been partial to pee….

How much water does it take to make a (250ml) cup of tea?

February 27th, 2017

The answer may depend on many factors – not least, on whom you ask. Dr John Kazer for example, who is a Carbon Footprint Certification Manager for the UK-based Carbon Trust will tell you that for a 250ml cup, it’ll take around 30 litres – but that’s just for the tea itself – considerably more if you add milk and sugar :

“Somewhere around 30 litres of water is required for tea itself, 10 litres for a small dash of milk and a further 6 litres for each teaspoon of sugar. This means that a simple cup of tea with milk and two sugars could actually require 52 litres of water – enough to fill my kettle more than 30 times.”

See: How much water does it take to make a cup of tea?

More info, see: The water footprint of food from Professor Arjen Y. Hoekstra, Twente Water Centre, University of Twente, the Netherlands.

Also see: Is it a Mug or Cup? Recent Progress in Fuzziness Studies

The Scottish Wasabi Fire Alarm

February 26th, 2017

The National Museum of Scotland includes in its vast collection this item, number T.2012.28:


Fire alarm for waking deaf people by nasal irritation with synthesized wasabi, awarded 2011 Ig Nobel prize in chemistry, designed by Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami, Japan, 2012

Inventor Makoto Imai himself donated this item to the museum, in Edinburgh, during the 2012 Ig Nobel EuroTour.

With enough data, you can figure out any problem, maybe

February 25th, 2017

Throw enough data at a problem, and you will find the answer, perhaps, or maybe, or possibly. That general approach fuels much optimism, research, and financial investment. Jeneen Interlandi explores part of the notion, in an article called “The Paradox of Precision Medicine,” in the April 2016 issue of Scientific American:

Precision medicine sounds like an inarguably good thing. It begins with the observation that individuals vary in their genetic makeup and that their diseases and responses to medications differ as a result. It then aims to find the right drug, for the right patient, at the right time, every time….

Ask scientists who favor precision medicine for an example of what it might accomplish, and they are likely to tell you about ivacaftor, a new drug that has eased symptoms in a small and very specific subset of patients with cystic fibrosis…

But ask opponents for an example of why precision medicine is fatally flawed, and they, too, are likely to tell you about ivacaftor….

If [scientists were able to gather a diverse and huge enough amount of data, and compare it] among as many individuals as possible, they would finally be able to pinpoint which constellation of forces drive which diseases, how best to identify those forces and how to devise treatments that target them….

Scientists learn more every day about the distinct forces that interact to produce disease in individuals. It is natural and fitting that they should start putting that information together in a systematic way. But society should not expect such efforts to completely transform medicine any time soon.



Is it a Mug or Cup? Recent Progress in Fuzziness Studies

February 23rd, 2017

Where does a cup end and a mug start? And vice versa? Help towards answering this consistently vexing question can be found in an essay by Brett Laybutt entitled A Corpus Study of ‘Cup of [Tea]’ and ‘Mug of [Tea]’ In which he cites the work of scholars who have tried, over the years, to crack its complexities – e.g. the work of Professor William Labov of the University of Pennsylvania.

“One of the first, and most influential, was Labov‟s (2004) original 1975 experiment in which subjects were shown pictures of varying indeterminacy and asked to label them.”

“From this, Labov was able to come up with a mathematical definition of ‘cup’. ”

Further reading : Labov, W. (2004). “The Boundaries of Words and their Meanings”. In B. Aarts, D. Denison, E. Keizer, & G. Popova (Eds.), Fuzzy Grammar: A Reader. Currently available at £185 from Oxford University Press.

Coming soon : How much water is in a cup of tea?